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Thursday, 17 October 1996
Page: 4457

Senator ALLISON(6.20 p.m.) —I rise to speak to the Democrats' and Greens' bill to protect D'Entrecasteaux National Park. There is at present a movement by this government and by the mining industry to open up protected areas for mining. I am sorry to say that this is a move which is wanted by some state governments as well.

We are seeing a strange phenomenon which I will call `flexible borders'. Yes, it is a national park; yes, it needs protecting; yes, it has important values—but we are just going to pop in an open-cut mine, complete with infrastructure, including tailings ponds, processing plant and trucking routes and, in this case, a sand mine complete with dredge.

I do not know what these governments think a national park is about, but our understanding is that it is about protecting an area in its own right for future generations. Just four per cent of Australia is designated as national park. By our calculation, that leaves the mining industry with a fair bit of the rest of the country.

The Democrats passionately believe that we must protect national parks and the protected areas that we have left. Furthermore, we must move to increase them to save our rapidly depleting biodiversity and our special places. We do not accept this outrageous attempt by the mining industry to get their hands onto our national parks and protected areas, and we will fight every step of the way to see that it does not happen.

D'Entrecasteaux itself may not be an untouched wilderness, but it is an important wetland area—so important that it is listed in ANCA's book Australia's important wetlands—yet the Western Australian government wants to excise this area for a rapacious sand mine operation. I am sure that the Western Australian government would say that it is just a bit of national park, and then the next time a money-grubbing greedy mining company comes along it will excise another bit and then another, all with the same justification. The fact is that seven-eighths of this park is pegged for mining. It is imperative that the federal government stop this in its tracks in the first instance.

Where does this kind of action leave our unique places, our wild species? Where do the people who love the peace of protected areas go? If economics is all this government thinks about, what about the economics of the tourist industry, which is, I might say, very substantial in Western Australia? People want to visit unspoiled areas. I think it is time governments recognise that.

The federal government has a definite responsibility in this area because this national park is on the Register of the National Estate. This bill will give the constitutional power for intervention and provide an important precedent in terms of the use of corporations powers. In fact, Justice Wilcox expressed the view that it would be possible to prohibit trading corporations adversely affecting items on the Register of the National Estate. The most respected authority on the Australian constitution, Professor Leslie Zines, insists that the Commonwealth may regulate and control all acts of trading and financial corporations for the purposes of trade, including mining.

Clearly, we have many reasons for intervention—to protect the area for future genera tions, to protect areas on the National Estate and to prevent states trading away our precious places. We have the right, under the constitution, to intervene.

There are not too many more incompatible activities within a wetland national park area than sandmining. It represents extensive disruption to the environment. That is why I urge the parliament to pass this bill. I look forward to its speedy passage through the Senate and the lower house.